Taylor Swift’s turn towards pop isn’t just an embrace of big beats and shiny surfaces, but a sense of lightness and play. It’s not that it lacks substance—hardly the case. But whereas 2008’s Fearless and 2010’s Speak Now take their dramas to Shakespearean heights, 1989 celebrates a newly liberated life of flings (“Style”), weekend getaways (“Wildest Dreams”) and the kind of cool confidence a younger Taylor Swift was too passionately involved to grasp.
So, while “Welcome to New York” is her way of letting everyone know that she’s at least momentarily done with country music and the constrictions it put on her image and sound, it’s also a song about turning your eye outward and surrendering to the dazzle that only a big city can offer. And while she used to take everything personally, now she’s just trying to have fun (“Shake It Off”). “Blank Space” even manages to make light of her gravest and most well-protected subject: Taylor Swift.
Like Shania Twain’s 1997 breakthrough, Come on Over, or even Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic Bringing It All Back Home, 1989 is an instance of an artist deliberately defying expectations while still managing to succeed. Swift didn’t exactly grow up with the synthesised, ’80s-inspired sounds that producers Max Martin, Shellback and Ryan Tedder helped her create here—as the album’s title reminds us, she wasn’t even born until the decade was already over. But just as she played with the traditions and conventions of country music on her early albums, 1989 uses its nostalgia not to look back, but to move ahead.